Thomas Greenough and the Green family in South Australia

“The City of Adelaide, from the Torrens near the Reed Beds” George French Angus. approximately 1846. State Library of South Australia B 15276/1. Out of copyright

A couple of months ago I published my family history book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families. In the book I wrote briefly about the life of my great-great-aunt Mary O’Toole (1821–1881). Mary was my great–great–grandfather John Thomas O’Toole’s sister. Since then I have made more discoveries about Mary’s life and the mystery surrounding the convict past of her first husband Thomas Greenough. The article which emerged from my research, A man of many names, was published in The South Australian Genealogist Volume 47 No 4 November 2020. This blog post is a modified version of that article. It includes an Epilogue about the discovery of Mary O’Toole’s grave in 1990 by her great-grandson John Lawrence Green.

A man of many names

My 3X great-aunt Mary O’Toole was a young woman of 19 when she arrived in South Australia on 7 July 1840. Mary, her parents and brothers were passengers on the William Nicol, the first ship to sail directly from Dublin to South Australia.[1] The Taggart family from Dublin were also passengers on this ship. Mary was not to know that some years in the future, John Taggart would become her second husband. This story is about the early years of Mary’s life in South Australia, and in particular her marriage to her first husband, a ‘man of many names’.

  1. On 17 January 1842 Mary married in a Catholic ceremony in Adelaide.[2] The name of the groom on the marriage certificate was James GREENHAM. Both James and Mary made a declaration that they were Catholics. The celebrant was Father William Benson[3].
  2. On 6 April 1844 their son Thomas Peter Green was baptised. On the baptism record, the father’s name is given as Thomas GREEN. All of the six children of the marriage were given the surname Green.
  3. At the Coroner’s Inquest following his death on 6 May 1851, Mary’s husband was named as Thomas GREENOUGH.

Who was this man with multiple names?


I searched numerous records to see what I could learn about ‘James Greenham’. A James Greenham arrived in Adelaide on 27 November 1837 on the ship Eudora from Hobart via Pt Phillip.[4] I searched Trove to see if I could find out anything more about him, with a nil result.

There are eight Greenham names in the Biographical Index of South Australians, but they all relate to one couple, Henry Greenham, born circa 1811 in England and his wife Isabella Davis.[5] The other Greenham entries are for the children of this couple. There are no death or cemetery records for a James Greenham in South Australia.

After mulling over the problem for some time, it dawned on me that I may have been wasting my time searching for the name James Greenham in South Australia. The explanation for the  mystery could be very simple: a mistake on the marriage certificate. It is possible that when the celebrant or whoever was filling out the form asked for the groom’s name, this person mis-heard the name “Greenough” as “Greenham.” This could have happened very easily. (I know this from personal experience. I have an Indian last name and I have grown accustomed to it being mis-spelt and mis-pronounced for 45 years.) Such mistakes occurred frequently in the nineteenth century, when the hearer did not understand the phonetic delivery of the person speaking.

The first name ‘James’ on the marriage record is also likely to be a mistake. This reasoning is supported by an entry in The Biographical Index of South Australians, where his name is written as James (Thomas) Greenham.[6] Perhaps James was the name of a witness to the marriage. Civil Registration of births, death and marriages became compulsory in South Australia in July 1842, six months after the marriage took place, so the only evidence we have is the church record.

Thomas GREEN

A daughter named Martha was born in 1842, but there is no baptism record for her. On 6 April 1844 their first son Thomas Peter Green was baptised by Father Edmond Mahoney. The sponsors were Patrick and Mary Dehane. The father’s name was recorded as Thomas GREEN.

Thomas Peter Green 1844–1918, the eldest son of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole. Date of photograph is unknown. Author photo collection.

Following the births of Martha and Thomas Peter, four more children were born to Thomas Green and Mary O’Toole: John 1845, Mary Ann 1847, James William 1849 and Catherine 1850. All of the children of the marriage were given the GREEN surname. On each of the baptism records, the father’s name was given as Thomas GREEN and the mother’s name as Mary Toole.[7] None of these births was officially registered.


On 6 May 1851 Mary’s husband drowned in the River Torrens. At the Coroner’s Inquest, he was named as Thomas GREENOUGH. On Thomas Greenough’s death certificate he was described as a Labourer of Walkerville. The informant was the Coroner, Charles Bonney, MP of Norwood.[8]

I searched to see if I could find any information about people with the name of Greenhough living in South Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. I found records for only two families: James William Greenough and his wife Mary Jane Guy who arrived in 1849 on the ship Stebonheath from Plymouth. Unfortunately the passenger list for this ship, which may have held some valuable information, is lost. This couple had a daughter named Martha in September 1849. Baby Martha died less than a month old. A son named James William Greenough died aged 7 months in December 1851. The names Martha and James William also occur in the family of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole, so perhaps this is an indication of a family connection. The second Greenough name I found was Joseph Greenough who arrived in 1852 on the Standard. I do not think this man has any connection to our Thomas Greenough.[9]

It was clear that Greenough is a very uncommon name in South Australia. The Greenough surname is an ancient name derived from a geographical locality in the Lancashire region of England. I decided to broaden my search for the identity of Thomas Greenough.

On 3 August 1829 a Thomas Greenough was convicted at the Lancaster Quarter Sessions of stealing chickens. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. On 15 December 1829 he sailed on the ship Mary with 167 other convicts. The Mary, a small ship of 361 tons, made seven voyages between 1819 and 1836 carrying convicts to Van Diemen’s Land. The average sentence of the convicts on Thomas Greenough’s voyage was 10 years. Fifty-one of the convicts on board had been sentenced to life sentences.

The Mary arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 10 April 1830. Soon after arrival, the convicts were processed: a detailed physical description was made and their occupation or skills recorded so it could be determined where they would be sent to work. There are four convict records for Thomas Greenough: the Appropriation List, Conduct Record, Description List and Muster Roll.[10] These records yield the following information: Convict No 641. Age 21. Trade: Ploughman. Place where tried: Lancaster. Native place: Prescot, Lancashire. Height (without shoes) 5 feet 6 inches. Grey eyes, dark complexion, a long face.

Thomas Greenough had a very poor conduct record. Between 1830 and 1835 some of the offences recorded on his Conduct Record were: repeated insolence and neglect of duty, neglect of duty and general misconduct and being absent from his post without leave. His punishments grew more severe over time: from 25 lashes to 50 lashes to 75 lashes and being sent to hard labour on a chain gang for 12 months. In October 1835 he was charged with having a loaf of bread concealed under his jacket for which he could not satisfactorily account and a month later he was charged with being absent from his post, for which he was sentenced to the treadwheel for 6 days. The sentencing magistrate in most instances was Richard Willis.

There are no records for Thomas Greenhough’s departure from Tasmania, so he may have left under another name. I have not found his Ticket of Leave or Certificate of Freedom.  On 19 December 1836 a Thomas Green departed from Launceston on the schooner Eagle bound for Port Phillip.[11] This would have been a few months after Thomas Greenough completed his seven year sentence. When he arrived in South Australia may never be known, as records were not kept for domestic arrivals.

Background to his death

On Friday 9 May 1851, there was a report of a “Disappearance” in an Adelaide newspaper.

On Monday night a Port carman named Green, whose family live at Walkerville, left home and has not since been heard of. He had been drinking very copiously and it is feared has met with some accident. The police are in search of him.[12]

On Sunday 12 May there was another newspaper report that a Mr J. W. McDonald had discovered the body in a hole in the River Torrens near his residence where it had been for almost a week. He immediately called for assistance ‘and on the body being taken out he identified it as being that of Thomas Greenough.’ The inquest was held at the Sussex Arms in Walkerville on the same day ‘owing to the decomposed state in which the remains of the deceased were taken from the river.’[13] The publican, Charles Harvey Earle stated that the deceased came to his hotel:

about 11 o’clock on the night of the 5th May, in company with two men named Alfred Ward and William Hill: they remained until 1 o’clock on Tuesday morning. The deceased went away by himself; he had apparently been drinking before he came to witness’s house, but he was not intoxicated then, or even when he left. The night was very dark, and it was raining when deceased started for home.

J. W. Macdonald, giving evidence stated that, on attempting to cross the river about 7.30 on the following Sunday morning, six days after the disappearance of Thomas Greenough, he observed a round substance in the water, which, on examination, he discovered to be the head of a submerged human body. There were no marks of injury on the body, apart from some scratches on the forehead. The Jury returned a verdict of accidental death.[14]

We don’t know if Thomas’ late night drinking on the night of his death was an isolated occurrence or part of a regular pattern of behaviour. Mary was at home with six very young children, the eldest Martha aged about eight, and the youngest Catherine aged six months. One can only try to imagine Mary’s worry when he did not return home and continued to be missing for the next week.

 Mary’s personal circumstances at this time were difficult, for she was alone and did not have the support of her extended family. In their early years in Adelaide, the O’Tooles lived in Walkerville, but in the autumn/winter of 1848 Mary’s parents and brothers moved to an 80 acre farming block near Salisbury. For reasons unknown, Mary, Thomas and their children remained in Walkerville. Two more children were born after the departure of the rest of the family to Salisbury: James William in February 1849 and daughter Catherine in November 1850. At the time of his death, Thomas Greenough was working as a “carman,” a driver of a horse-drawn vehicle used for transporting goods, the equivalent to a labouring job – which is the occupation given on his death certificate.

Thomas Greenough was buried in an unmarked grave in an unknown location. In 1990, Ruth Green (wife of John Lawrence Green, a great-grandson of Thomas Greenough and Mary O’Toole) wrote letters to the Works Supervisor at West Terrace cemetery, the research co-ordinator at the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society and the Archivist of the Adelaide Archdiocese. None of them could find any trace of a burial for Thomas Greenough. A letter from the Adelaide Archdiocese Archivist stated that “In Thomas’s case, it is possible, given the circumstances of his death and the harshness of Church law at the time, that he was not buried by a priest. If that is so, and his family was too poor to be able to afford a headstone for his grave, I am afraid that we will never be able to locate it.”[15]

His age on his death certificate was recorded as 38 years. The Coroner, Charles Bonney, MP was the informant, but he may not have known Thomas Greenough’s correct age. It is more likely he was aged 42 years. Thomas Greenough was aged 21 when he arrived in Van Dieman’s Land in 1830. As accurate records were kept in the convict system I am inclined to accept that his year of birth was 1809. I also found a baptism record for a Thomas Greenough which took place on 4 June 1809 in St Helens Lancashire.[16] St Helens is about 5 km from Prescot, the town given as Thomas Greenough’s native place on his convict record.

Mary’s life after the death of Thomas Greenough

When Thomas Greenough died in May, Mary faced the winter months trying to provide for her small children. I can’t imagine how she survived the next eighteen months. On 22 December 1852 Mary married John Taggart, a widower. John Taggart’s first wife Bridget Cleary and their infant daughter Margaret died in 1848.

The error of her husband’s name on her first marriage certificate may have caused problems for Mary when  she wished to re-marry. The baptism records for her children may have proved useful in convincing the Catholic Church that her married name was GREEN, not GREENHAM. Her name as recorded on her marriage to John Taggart is Mary GREEN, not Greenham. My great-great grandmother Ellen O’Toole was a witness to the marriage and the celebrant was Father Michael Ryan.

Soon after their marriage, John and Mary Taggart moved to the Salisbury area where they lived close to the rest of the O’Toole family. I imagine this must have been a comfort to Mary. Her youngest daughter Catherine Green died aged 12 years, but the other five children lived to adulthood. Mary had six more children with her second husband. She was to face many more challenges in her life, but that is another story.

My analysis of the evidence

When I began pursuing this story, I was sceptical as to whether Thomas Greenough the convict and Thomas Greenough who drowned in the River Torrens were the same person. I now believe, on the balance of probability, that they were the same person.

One aspect of this case which made the search easier is that Greenough is a very uncommon name in Tasmania and South Australia. Ordinarily one expects families to take a degree of pride in the family name, especially if it is unusual and of an ancient lineage. Thomas Greenough had three sons to carry on the family name, yet it appears that he wanted his children to have the common surname Green, and the unusual surname Greenough to disappear from the family tree. The name Green is very numerous in South Australia. There are six pages of Greens in the South Australian Biographical Index covering many families. A search of the surname Green on the database of the Genealogy and Heraldry Society of South Australia reveals 1572 birth registrations, 966 marriage registrations, 1268 death registrations and so on for the Green surname.

Perhaps Thomas Greenough struggled with grief, guilt and shame for being transported as a convict to Van Diemen’s Land. It is sad to reflect that in the period in which he lived, the shame of having a convict past led him to keep his family name and heritage a secret from his children and their descendants. Today we can look with compassion on the harsh sentence meted out to a young man for the crime of stealing chickens, presumably because his family was poor and hungry. He then endured the horror of harsh penal servitude for what appear to be minor offences.

Thomas Greenough almost succeeded in obscuring his past, were it not for the inquest into his death which lead to a trail of evidence waiting to be discovered by a curious researcher delving into his past 170 years after his death.


On a hot summer day in 1990, Mary O’Toole’s great-grandson John Lawrence Green and his wife Ruth went in search of her burial place. Ruth Green (nee Hewitt) wrote a poignant description of their efforts to locate Mary’s grave.

Early in the year 1990 Jack and I spent a day in the Balaklava and Port Wakefield area searching for the grave sites of Jack’s two great-grandmothers; namely Mary Taggert, formerly Green, born Toole; and Mary Ann Chatfield, born Burgess. With the help of the information I had already researched we had no problem finding the grave of Mary Ann Chatfield in a large family plot in the Balaklava cemetery. The headstone was very informative and we learned more family history from the inscription.

At the District Council of Wakefield Plains, we could get little help about Mary Taggert except her plot was No. 24, Catholic section in the OLD cemetery at Port Wakefield. We journeyed across to Port Wakefield and spent a very trying afternoon. We made five house calls to various identities, some saying there was no old cemetery, others not telling us where we could locate it. We were sent out to the present day cemetery, told it would have to be there as there was nothing left of the old cemetery. It was sold years ago, now belonged privately and was a stock paddock. We went to the present day cemetery also knowing this was not the place we were looking for. It was a very hot day and the air-conditioner in the car had broken, but Jack insisted we go back to Port Wakefield and continue our search.

We went to a dear lady we had been told about, a Mrs Underwood. She told us there was an OLD cemetery and where to go to find it. Two more house stops for directions and we ended in a very sad place, in the middle of a swamp, salt bush, stock paddock. There were remains of graves, broken slate, wrought iron surround, concrete, a couple of broken head stones with writing. We searched and walked to the corner of the paddock nearest, knowing each denomination in the early years had separate burial allotments. No luck. We walked back and while I photographed the ruins, Jack drove by car to the far corner of the paddock, coming back to tell me he had found it.

We stood at Mary’s gravesite in awe and sadness. It was dilapidated and vandalized. Why had this old cemetery been allowed to disintegrate in this way? We vowed this day to restore Mary’s grave. It was from her our present day Green family generated.

The lonely grave of Mary O’Toole in what was once the Old Port Wakefield Cemetery. It is now private land and little trace remains of the cemetery. Photo credit: Riverton History Centre, Riverton, SA. April 2017

There are photographs of the gravesite as they found it on that day. There were obscene words chipped into the headstone and what appeared to be bullet holes. Jack and Ruth re-visited the gravesite, retrieved the headstone and delivered it to a Monumental Mason for repair and restoration. The gravesite has been tidied up and fenced off. It sits all alone in the middle of a paddock. Of the other 26 graves there is not much evidence that they ever existed.

[1]     I have written about the O’Toole family in my book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families.

[2]     James Greenham and Mary Toole, Marriage Certificate, 17 January 1842, Roman Catholic Church Register, Adelaide, Certificate No. 1. The Library and Research Centre of the South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society has this record on fiche. The originals are held in the Archives of the Catholic Archdiocese in Wakefield St, Adelaide.

[3]     Father William Benson had arrived in Adelaide on the Dorset on 14 February 1841.

[4]           Early Shipping and Passenger Lists, FamilyHistorySA. https://www.familyhistorysa.org/shipping/passengerlists.html

[5]      Biographical Index of South Australians 1836-1885, Jill Statton (ed.) Adelaide, South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, 1986.

[6]      The Biographical Index of South Australians has a listing for James (Thomas) Greenham, religion Roman Catholic, marriage to Mary Toole on 17 January 1842 and a child, Martha born in 1842.

[7]     Letter from Sister Marie Therese Foale, Adelaide Archdiocesan Archivist, Catholic Diocesan Centre, Wakefield Street, Adelaide. 4 October 1988. Family records compiled by Ruth Green, Leaves from a branch of the Green tree, Descendants of Thomas Peter and Phillis Green, 1990, page 6

[8]     Thomas Greenough, Death Certificate, 5 May 1851, South Australia Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Book/page 2/82.

[9]     He was a miner and storekeeper in Kapunda. His religion was Wesleyan. He died aged 61 in 1875 in Kapunda.

[10]   Appropriation List CON27/1/4 Image 94/Image 98; Conduct Record CON31/1/16 Image 5; Description List CON18/1/15 page 184; Muster Roll CSO1/1/361 page 8292. The full convict record of Thomas Greenough can be found here: https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/all/search/results?qu=greenhough&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+Type+%28Names+Index%29%09Convicts%09Convicts

[11]   Thomas Green. Departures. Departure Port: Launceston. Record ID: Name_Indexes: 555633. Resource: POL458/1/2p55 . Libraries Tasmania website. https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=green&qu=thomas&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+type%09Departures%09Departures&st=PA&isd=true

[12]   “Local News.” South Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1844 – 1851) 9 May 1851, p 2.

[13]   “A Man Found Drowned.” South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 12 May 1851, p 2.

[14]     “Report of Coroner’s Inquest.” South Australian Register, (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 13 May 1851, p 3.

[15]   Sister Marie Therese Foale, Adelaide Diocesan Archivist, 28 March 1990.

[16]   Transcription of the 1809 Baptism record of Thomas Greenough found on FindMyPast. https://www.findmypast.co.uk/transcript?id=R_9605797189

An abandoned church evokes the spirit of my Dempsey ancestors

This article which I wrote recently has just been published in the May 2023 edition of The South Australian Genealogist.

This is the article.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Dawson’ painted by Bruce Swan. Image courtesy of Steve Swan.

There is an evocative painting by South Australian landscape artist Bruce Swann, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Dawson of a once beautiful small church standing alone in a dry landscape on a hot summer’s day. It is a forlorn symbol of the lost dreams of hard-working pioneers.

This church has a significant place in the history of my maternal ancestors, the Dempsey family. My great grandparents helped to build the church. Until I began researching my family history, I had never heard of Dawson or Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. “Our Lady of Mount Carmel” is the name given to Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite religious order. The Carmelite order was founded on Mount Carmel in the 12th century. Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel. Carmelite tradition has it that a community of Jewish hermits had lived at the site since the time of the prophet Elijah (900 BCE). Elijah is revered as the spiritual Father of the Order. Shortly after the Order was created a Carmelite monastery was founded at the site dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Another Bruce Swan painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Dawson, from a slightly different angle, was commissioned by the people of South Australia and presented to Pope John Paul II on his 1986 visit to Adelaide. It is now part of the Vatican collection. The Church is listed on South Australia’s Heritage Register with the following citation:

Dawson's Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, built in 1886 is of significance because it evocatively illustrates the pattern of settlement associated with the expansion of the agricultural frontier that occurred as a result of land reform from the mid 1870s. With extreme optimism, small farming communities were established far north of Goyder's Line of Rainfall and hamlets developed. In Dawson, this fine church was built, anticipating a thriving community. The architect for the building, Father John Norton is of significance as a competent architect turned priest and was responsible for several buildings in the region. Of course, the town of Dawson and its envisaged wheat farming community did not occur, beaten by years of drought in country best described as marginal. Dawson's Church evokes all of this history and stands in this barren landscape as a monument to the failure of the later Strangways resumptions.

The 1880s saw the construction of Methodist and Anglican churches as well as the Catholic church. The Dawson Hotel was built in 1883. A public school opened in 1885 after several years of agitation by local residents. Local government came to the area in 1888 with the District Council of Coglin which met alternately between Dawson and Lancelot. In its heyday, Dawson had multiple stores, an Institute, an agricultural bureau, and a blacksmith.

My great grandparents were among the unfortunate early settlers who tried farming outside Goyder’s Line of Rainfall. George Goyder was South Australia’s first Surveyor General who determined that land beyond a certain line was not suitable for agriculture as it lacked reliable rainfall. The government of the day ignored his warnings, and knowingly sold land to unsuspecting settlers. The countryside around Dawson has returned to its native vegetation, mainly salt bush and mallee scrub. Farmers run a few sheep. There is little trace left of the community who once lived there.

My grandfather, Patrick Joseph Dempsey was born on the family farm near Dawson on 17 July 1887, the second child of my great grandparents Andrew Felix Dempsey and Mary Ann Naughton. Their first child, a daughter named Mary Bridget, was born on 22 March 1886. She lived for only 11 days and was buried in the Dawson cemetery. In the photographs I have seen of my great grandmother as an old lady, she looks rather stern. I tried to imagine her feelings as a young woman, coping with the grief of losing her first child soon after birth. Altogether Mary Ann had eight children born near Dawson between 1886 and 1901.

Mary Ann Dempsey (nee Naughton) with her granddaughters Patricia and Mary Dempsey. My mother Mary Dempsey is the baby on her lap. 1915.

A few years ago I went on an ancestral journey of discovery in South Australia, visiting the places where my ancestors had once lived. Dawson was the last stop. We turned off the Barrier Highway north of Peterborough on to a rough dirt road. It did not look promising. There had been heavy rain that winter and we were nervous about getting bogged, an experience we had already encountered near Wirrabara. We wondered if we should continue or abandon our quest to find Dawson. As we passed the small cemetery, we could see it was not far to go so we decided to risk it. The remains of a solid hotel stand on the corner of the main intersection of what was once Dawson.

Dawson, with the ruins of the hotel on the left. 18 September 2016

What happened next was one of those serendipitous moments when I felt that the spirits of my ancestors were watching over me as I researched my family history. In that deserted landscape, a farmer appeared driving his ute with his working dog beside him. He stopped to chat and was naturally curious about what we were doing in Dawson. I told him about my interest in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church and to my amazement he told me that I would find the keys hanging on a hook in the small community hall nearby and I could return them there when I had finished looking inside the church.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Dawson. 18 September 2016

When I entered the church, I was moved to see one of the stained glass windows had been dedicated by my great grandparents “Andrew and Mary Dempsey”. I have visited many of the great cathedrals of Europe, but they did not move me as much as this small church in the bush. I felt a sense of grief and loss for my ancestors who had built this church and after a few years had to leave it behind when they were forced to abandon farming in this inhospitable environment.

The stained glass window donated to the church by my great-grandparents Andrew and Mary Dempsey

The last Mass was held in the Church in January 1970. More than 50 years since it was closed and 140 or so years since it was built, the Church building, its stained-glass windows and beautiful wood ceiling remain in good condition – a testament to the care with which it was constructed in 1885. The church’s architect was Father John Henry Norton.

John Henry Norton was born on the Ballarat goldfields in 1855. His father was English and his mother was Irish. As a young child he attended a Methodist Sunday School but later turned to his mother’s Catholicism. In 1870 he was received into the Church. Bishop Reynolds of the diocese of Adelaide sponsored his studies for the priesthood overseas. He was a student at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny for two years and then a seminarian at the Propaganda College in Rome.  He received his Doctorate of Divinity from the College and was ordained  a priest on 8 April 1882. On his return to South Australia he was appointed to the parish of Petersburg, now Peterborough. Father Norton was responsible for designing several notable buildings in his parish. He was consecrated as Bishop of the then Port Augusta diocese at St Francis Cathedral, Adelaide on 9 December 1906. Bishop Norton had a close connection with the Dempsey family over many years. He officiated at the marriage of my great grandparents Andrew Felix Dempsey and Mary Ann Naughton at St Sebastian’s Church, Peterborough in 1884. He married my grandparents, Patrick Joseph Dempsey and Mary Lilian Howard at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Yongala in 1911. He also officiated at many Dempsey family baptisms and funerals. My mother did not leave behind many precious possessions, but there was one item which was very dear to her: a sepia-toned picture of the Sacred Heart in an oak frame which was a gift from Bishop Norton to my grandparents on their wedding day. My mother said in her memoir that the picture has a great deal of meaning for her and expressed the hope that some member of the family would take care of it when she was no longer able to do so.

Eventually my great grandfather Andrew Felix gave up trying to farm in the Hundred of Paratoo. His land was sold for less than the 10 per cent deposit paid on it. The Dempseys moved south and started anew, farming on land sub-divided on Old Canowie Station, between Whyte Yarcowie and Jamestown. Andrew Felix Dempsey purchased a property of 800 acres near Whyte Yarcowie for my grandfather. Grandpa was not given the land; he gradually repaid his father and by 1924 had succeeded in doing so.

My grandparents moved to this farm following their marriage in 1911. This is where my mother spent her childhood in great comfort and security. “It seemed to me, as a child, that the farm and home might well have been there for centuries. That’s how secure everything seemed to be.”

My grandparents Patrick Joseph Dempsey and Mary Lilian Howard with their children (left to right) Mary (my mother), Patricia and John. Photograph circa  1917-1918.

My grandfather had great devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. His birthday coincided with her Feast Day and he named his farm near Whyte Yarcowie “Carmela” in her honour. He never forgot the church of his childhood. On the occasion of the closing of the church in January 1970, he wrote an article in the Witness, the monthly newspaper of the Port Pirie Diocese, expressing his sorrow. He recounted some amusing anecdotes about his days serving as an altar boy. He recalled that when he was a student at the Dawson Public School (the Catholic school had closed because of drought) the school had over 60 pupils on the roll book and “now there is no one living in the township of Dawson. What a mistake was made when the Government in defiance of the advice that Goyder gave them that they should not cut up for closer settlement any land outside Goyder’s line of rainfall. And now the lovely building is to be abandoned.” According to another correspondent in the Witness, Cardinal Norman Gilroy, during the time he spent as Bishop of Port Augusta 1935–1937,  was reported as saying that the Dawson church was like a small Cathedral in a desert.

A year following the closure of the Church my grandfather died aged 84 at the Little Sisters of the Poor, Myrtle Bank, Adelaide.


1.       ‘Bruce Swann: Australian realist landscape artist, 1925–1987’. Estate of Bruce Swan, https://www.bruceswann.com/landscapes.html

2.       Data SA, ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church’, SA Heritage Places Database Search, https://maps.sa.gov.au/heritagesearch/HeritageItem.aspx?p_heritageno=16010

3.       Margaret M. Press, John Henry Norton: 1855–1923 Bishop of Railways, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, 1993.

4.     Joseph Dempsey, A Tribute to our Pioneer Ancestors: The Dempsey family in South Australia, Walkerville, 18 November 1933.

5.       Mary Imelda Dempsey, Carmela, a memoir, February–April 1995

6.       Witness. Catholic Monthly Newspaper of the Port Pirie Diocese. Vol XVI, No. 1, Pt Pirie, January 1970, p. 4

TT Reed Family History Book Award Winner

At a function held in Adelaide on 18 July my book Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families was awarded the TT Reed Family History Book Award. This Award is made annually by the South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society to the person producing, in the opinion of the Society, the best family history in a given calendar year. 

The Award is named after Thomas Thornton Reed (1902-1995), Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide and a founder of GenealogySA in 1972.

The 2019 Award was not presented due to difficulties in judging as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Society therefore decided to combine the histories submitted for 2019, and judge them jointly with those submitted for 2020. 

The judges made the following comments about my book:

Bernadette Thakur has crafted a well-rounded family history volume reflecting a great combination of research and storytelling. From the outset there is a good selection of consistent print styles, a good balance of images and maps to complement the text, all well supported by endnotes and an excellent bibliography. While there is good storytelling throughout the book, in relating the story of the Hayes family, the author showed real strength and artistry with the storytelling from her research. The history marries the family history with South Australian history, with excellent and comprehensive endnotes, reflecting the depth of research. The lengthy Appendix is quite complementary to the book and adds real value.

I was unable to be present for the occasion due to state border closures between SA and the ACT and NSW, but I attended via a Zoom link.

The Award was presented by Sue Lear, President of GenealogySA, and Andrew Peake, Chair of the Judges Panel.

Irish Settlers in South Australia: The first review of my book has been published!

A review of my book, Irish Settlers in South Australia: The Hayes and O’Toole Families was  published on 10 August 2020 in the online magazine Tintean. The reviewer is Dr Dymphna Lonergan, a researcher and media expert in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University.  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2063-9931

From the review:

“[T]his is the story of Bernadette Thakur’s Hayes and O’Toole ancestors who migrated to South Australia in 1840 from Galway and County Wicklow.”

“This is also a handsome book”.

“This author’s style is varied and warm but grounded in truth-finding and truth-telling. The reader cannot help but appreciate the translation of dedicated scholarship into an easy read for those who might not have a personal connection with the people involved.

“Thakur says that ‘writing about my ancestors was very challenging as they left so little mark in the records. They were poor immigrants who arrived with nothing. They did their best to take care of their families and build new lives for themselves as farmers. Their story of honest hard work over many years is totally at odds with the generally negative stereotype of the Irish’. She has succeeded in lifting their lives out of the world of documents and photos. The book could be used as a template for writers’ groups in how to write a family history.

The full review can be found at the link below.

Irish Settlers in South Australia

A Winter Wedding

Rain was falling as my great-grandmother Catherine O’Toole woke up on the morning of Saturday 15 July 1865, but this did not dampen her spirits. Catherine was twenty-one years old, and this was her wedding day. It had been raining all week and her family had some distance to go to reach the church, St Mary’s in Mintaro. Catherine must have hoped they would not get bogged on the rough and slippery roads. The local correspondent for the newspaper reported that some very heavy rains had fallen within the last 24 hours, and “it still looks very gloomy with every appearance of more wet.”[1] His prediction of more rain was correct, for a few days later he reported “Since my last communication we have had constant rains with but few hours intermission.”[2]

Catherine was born in Adelaide in 1844. Her parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles arrived in South Australia in 1840. They were Irish immigrants from County Wicklow. By 1865 Catherine was living with her parents and extended family on a farm in the Hundred of Apoinga, a few kilometres south of the big copper mine at Burra. There was no direct road to Mintaro and the O’Toole family would have travelled a circuitous route via Black Springs and Farrell Flat.

I wondered why St Mary’s Church was the location for the wedding as the O’Toole family did not have any connection with Mintaro. The answer could lie in an event which occurred a couple of years earlier. In April 1863, a joint wedding ceremony for Catherine’s sisters Mary and Margaret had taken place at the O’Tooles’ home in Apoinga. Perhaps Catherine thought that when it was her turn to marry, she would like to have a church ceremony. The nearest church was Saint Mary’s which opened on 23 November 1856.[3]

The young man she was to marry on this rainy day, Patrick Hayes, had arrived in South Australia in 1849 as a nine-year old boy with his parents, sister and infant brother. They were immigrants from County Galway. The experience of living through the Famine as a young child must have left memories which could not easily be forgotten and may have been a formative influence on his character.

It was customary for boys to begin working from about the age of fourteen, so Patrick was probably earning his keep from a young age. His father Thomas bought land near Kapunda in 1858, and thereafter Patrick helped his father on the land.[4] As well as helping the family with farming, Patrick wanted to earn his own income. He started working as a bullocky, carting copper between the mine at Burra to the railway terminus at Kapunda. He would have been very young to do this hazardous and dangerous work. Sometimes a load overturned on the rough roads, killing both bullocks and driver.

bullock-tracks-mapPatrick and Catherine may have met at Apoinga, one of the resting stops for the bullock teams.[5] Many of the bullockies were Irish and would have had connections amongst the Irish families living in the area. The bullock teams operated in spring and autumn – the summers were too hot for the animals and in winter muddy road conditions made carting heavy loads impossible. This could be the reason why a date in mid-winter was chosen for the wedding.

On 27 May 1865, seven weeks before the wedding, Patrick took out a lease for one of the sections owned by his father for a term of four years.[6] Patrick now had a place of his own to bring his young bride. He was on the path to independence.

The wedding

Catherine and Patrick were married by the Austrian Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Tappeiner. He was the district’s first parish priest and rode by horseback to Mintaro to say Sunday Mass once a fortnight.[7] The wedding was probably a solemn occasion with only family members present. Patrick and Catherine both signed the marriage certificate with their (x) mark. Patrick was illiterate but Catherine may not have been. She may have signed with her (x) mark as a symbol of solidarity with her husband.[8]

St Mary’s Church, Mintaro (September 2016) Photo:Ramesh Thakur

Given the distance between Kapunda and Mintaro, I can’t be sure who from Patrick’s side of the family may have attended the wedding. Patrick was the eldest and his younger sisters were aged only eight and five. Given the cold and wet weather, I think it unlikely that they all would have travelled the distance, but perhaps his parents were there.

It may have been late in the day when the wedding was over and the weather continued to be intensely cold.[9] I imagine that Patrick and Catherine may have spent the night in one of Mintaro’s two hotels, the Magpie and Stump (1850) or the Devonshire Arms (1856). Perhaps they commenced the long journey to Kapunda after attending Sunday Mass at St Mary’s and receiving the congratulations of the parishioners.

I cannot help but think of my great-grandparents with affection. They were a young couple with hope in their hearts. I wonder about their conversation on the way to Kapunda as they planned their future together. Their 12th and youngest child was my grandfather, William Michael Hayes, born in 1890.

[1] ‘Mintaro’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) Saturday 15 July 1865, page 2

[2] Since my last communication we have had constant rains with but few hours intermission. It is at the present moment raining very heavily. It is to be hoped sincerely that the Far North may have had the same benefit conferred on it which we all in some measure feel. ‘Mintaro’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 21 July 1865, page 4

[3] I have many ancestors buried in the graveyard of this church, but none from the Hayes or O’Toole families.

[4] 3 December 1858. Land Grant to Thomas Hayes for Sections 242 and 243, Hundred of Belvidere, County Light. Register Book 3, Folio 36. South Australian Integrated Land Information System (SAILIS) Historical Name Index Search 1858-1863, page 30. https://www.sailis.sa.gov.au/home/auth/login

[5] Apoinga Lagoon was an unexpected spread of fresh water in a dry region.

[6] The agreement was that £16 would be paid on 27 May each year. The section contained 72 acres. Memorial 141, Book 237. Old System Records, General Registry Office, Netley, Adelaide.

[7] Father Joseph Tappeiner arrived in South Australia from Austria in 1852. He was much beloved by his Irish parishioners. “At that period Mintaro and district contained a strong Irish element fresh from the ‘old land’, which is ever noted for the wonderful love of the Soggarth Aroon, (Gaelic for ‘dear priest’) but even in that country it would have been impossible to equal the bonds of affection which existed between the Irish settlers and the Austrian Jesuits.” Gerald A. Lally, A Landmark of Faith, Church of the Immaculate Conception Mintaro and its Parishioners 1856 – 2006, Clare South Australia 2006, p 10

[8] Catherine’s father John O’Toole witnessed the document with his (x) mark, but Margaret Larkin signed her name. If her younger sister Margaret could sign her name, it would seem to be highly likely that Catherine could also.

[9] ‘Kapunda’, Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 15 July 1865, page 1

Is this it? Searching for Derrygoolin

My quest to discover my Irish ancestors began with my paternal ancestors, the Hayes family.  I learnt about the challenges of Irish family history research by studying my Hayes ancestors. The beginning was easy, looking at ship arrivals in South Australia. I soon discovered that they arrived in South Australia on 23 August 1849 on the ship Eliza. The passenger list recorded that they were from County Galway: Thomas and Honora Hayes, aged 38 and 34, and their three children, Mary aged 10, Patrick aged 9 and Thomas who was an infant.

Where had they come from in County Galway? This next step in my research was much harder. It took me the best part of a year to learn that they were from the townland of Derrygoolin, in the far south-eastern corner of County Galway, bordering on County Clare and Lough Derg. One day, I thought, I will go to this townland to see it for myself.

On a warm summer’s day in June this year, that day finally arrived. It was with a great sense of anticipation that we set off from Ennis and drove across the pleasant but unremarkable countryside of eastern County Clare, so different from the rugged and dramatic Atlantic coastline. From Scarriff we turned northwards to follow the shoreline of Lough Derg, a long narrow lake and the third largest in Ireland. We stopped along the way to get a closer look at the Holy Island of Inishcaltra and its ancient monastic site and Round Tower.

Soon after we crossed the Clare/Galway border, we turned on to a local road in what we hoped was the right direction. We knew that Derrygoolin was well off the beaten track and we wouldn’t find it near any main roads. We climbed slowly up the hills on the narrow road, through a spare and barren landscape, with no sign of any human habitation. There were a few cows resting in a rocky field and a clear view down to Lough Derg. We stopped, took a few photographs, and began to wonder “Could this be it? Was this Derrygoolin?”

Loch Derg
Cows grazing on the hillside, Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway. Co. Tipperary is on the other side of Lough Derg


The GPS kept telling us we were nearly there. As we came down the hill, it guided us into a left turn on to what looked like a dead-end road. Sure enough, the road petered out into the entrance gate of an obvious farmhouse 50 metres away when the GPS told us: “After 80 metres on the left, you have arrived at your destination.” My husband and I looked at each other with a mixture of bafflement, consternation and merriment. Had our drive been in vain? All we could see was a secluded house, hidden behind a high stone wall, with a formidable large gate. It was the only house visible for miles around. It seemed worthwhile to try asking the owners if this was Derrygoolin.

As I approached the gate two dogs came running down the long driveway, barking ferociously. I stood wondering what to do and was about to leave when the figure of a woman appeared in the distance. She must have decided that I wasn’t a threat and began to walk hesitantly down the drive. By this time the dogs had decided that they liked me and were wagging their tails happily. When I explained my reason for stopping by, she confirmed that “Yes, this is Derrygoolin”.

We then proceeded into the village of Woodford about 5km away. With hindsight now I regret not stopping longer in Derrygoolin, to look around me, and reflect that it was on this land that my ancestors lived. It is difficult to imagine the family’s poor living conditions, let alone how they survived the Famine on this stony bare hillside.

Loch Derg
Derrygoolin townland, Co. Galway

This was the land where my great grandfather Patrick Hayes spent his first nine years.  What an exciting time it must have been for a young boy when the family made their way down to Cobh harbour to take a boat across to Plymouth, where they boarded the big ship, the Eliza on 11 May 1849, for their journey to the other side of the world. They travelled without family or friends, for there were only 22 Irish on board and 305 English passengers.

The main street, Woodford village, Co. Galway

Woodford was a delight, charming and picturesque. The ladies in the public library on the main street were interested and friendly. The waitress in the café across the street was married to a Hayes. We found the graves of many deceased Hayes in the Catholic cemetery a short stroll up the hill. I felt that I was in Hayes territory.


A stroll through Woodford village, as neat as a pin


The East Galway Family History Society had been very helpful to me in the early days of my research, and I wanted to see the Woodford Heritage Centre where it is located. The building itself is of historical interest as it was formerly a National School built in 1834. We were there on a Saturday and I expected the Centre to be closed, but to my surprise, the door was open. The people inside looked astonished when I stepped through the door, but in typical Irish fashion they were generous with their time and eager to help.

Woodford Heritage Centre – the door is open!

It was another instance of the serendipitous events which occurred during my visit to Ireland where I felt the spirits of my ancestors were watching over me and helping me on my journey.

Stopping to say hello to the horses outside Woodford. Derrygoolin and Lough Derg in the distance.

Co. Galway Ireland

The Voyage of the Constance

The continuing story of the emigrants from the Shirley estate

On 24 March 2018, Qantas flew the first direct non-stop 14,498 km flight from Australia to the UK in a little over 17 hours. The earliest Qantas flight between the two countries had taken four days and required seven stops along the “Kangaroo route.” Several VIPs were aboard to celebrate the inaugural flight with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce departing Perth on the 24th and landing at Heathrow on the 25th. Joyce was born and grew up in Ireland and moved to Australia in 1996. He has no reason to be aware that 169 years earlier, a ship laden with Irish immigrants had broken the record for the Plymouth–Adelaide route and created a buzz in its day. In contrast to the Dreamliner flight of 2018, the 1849 shipping voyage was something of a nightmare for the passengers. It was also a fateful journey for the story of my ancestors in South Australia.

The arrival of the Constance at Port Adelaide on 5 November 1849 caused a sensation in the shipping world. It had sailed in the record breaking time of 77 days, when the norm was closer to 120 days. It was the first (and last) government chartered vessel to sail the far southern latitudes of the Great Circle route. The British Admiralty was subsequently to prohibit government ships from sailing into the higher freezing latitudes close to the Antarctic. Of such fame was the voyage of the Constance that a painting of the ship was commissioned in 1853. It is held in the National Library of Australia.

Constance painting
The Constance, 578 tons, off Kerguelens Land, 20th October 1849, on her passage from Plymouth to Adelaide in 77 days. The artist was Thomas G Dutton.   Out of copyright. 

A voyage to forget

The voyage did not begin well. Within four days of leaving Plymouth on 19 August, there was sickness on the ship. Fever, diarrhoea, cholera and pleurisy had spread among the passengers. Before three weeks had elapsed, general sickness prevailed on board. The first death occurred only eight days after the voyage had started.

The Shirley emigrants from County Monaghan probably had no experience of sea travel. Not only was their journey from Plymouth to Adelaide an ordeal, but their passage from Dublin to Plymouth was not a good omen for what lay ahead of them. The surgeon superintendent on the Constance was later to report that the Shirley passengers had suffered severely from sea sickness on a rough Dublin–Plymouth steamer passage. Their relief at ultimately arriving on dry land in South Australia must have been immense.

For unknown reasons, Captain G B Godfrey decided to take the Great Circle Route, sailing down the coast of Brazil and South America into the higher latitudes close to the Antarctic, then east, where the ship caught the strong winds known as the “roaring forties” which blow around the Antarctic. Icebergs can occur at any time of the year but especially between May and October, making the area even more treacherous for shipping. The captain achieved a record sailing time, but the lives of the crew and passengers were put at risk.

clipper route to adelaide
Source https://goo.gl/images/ErKCs4

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the passengers as the Constance battled mountainous seas and freezing temperatures in the southern latitudes. They would have stayed below deck, listening as the ship creaked and groaned and possibly wondering if the end of their days was nigh. It must have been a relief for them when the Constance sailed into the calm waters of St Vincent’s Gulf, and they were able to go on deck, see blue sky and feel the warmth of the sun.

Twenty three deaths, mainly from cholera, occurred during the voyage, a 9.4 per cent loss rate for the ship.[1] There was only one other ship with a higher death rate among 323 government-assisted voyages to South Australia between 1848 and 1885. It is remarkable that under epidemic conditions, the surgeon superintendent on board was able to contain the number of deaths to twenty-three. After arrival the passengers on the Constance declared their gratitude to the surgeon-superintendent for his attention.

Were they the victims of a nautical experiment or did illness on board influence the decision of the captain to sail the Great Circle Route? It is possible that if the captain had taken the usual but longer route, down the coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and crossing the Indian Ocean, the death toll could have been higher.

Four more people died immediately after disembarking in Adelaide. Eleven others still suffering from fever were taken to the government funded Adelaide hospital. On recovery they were housed in the government Immigration Depot with their families. Another sixteen were visited at their lodgings by the Colonial Surgeon because the hospital was full.

Scapegoating the Shirley emigrants

The Destitute Board in Adelaide, which bore the cost of looking after the sick emigrants, was overwhelmed by the arrival of the Constance. The Board complained to Lieutenant Governor Sir H.E.F. Young, pointing the blame for the level of sickness amongst the passengers at the emigrants from the Shirley estate.

A great increase to the numbers receiving relief from the Destitute Board has taken place since the arrival of the “Constance” on 5th November, with Government emigrants. The greater part of the emigrants by this vessel were Irish and I am informed were in a very emaciated state when put on board in Plymouth in consequence of which low fever to a great extent, prevailed on board all the voyage . . . I am informed that nearly half those people were from one estate in Monaghan, and I beg leave to express an opinion that such a selection is highly objectionable, for considering the wretched state to which the peasantry of the south of Ireland have been reduced by famine and disease, it is not probable that a number of Irish emigrants, especially if taken from one neighbourhood, will be of that healthy and robust character so requisite in persons selected with the view of supplying the colony with an eligible description of labourers.

When I first read this critique, I pictured my ancestors disembarking in a bedraggled and emaciated state. And indeed, Peter Holland was admitted to Adelaide Hospital on 30 November, suffering continuous fever after 21 days in the colony.[2] Yet the criticism turned out to be unfair. Of the twenty one deaths on board, only four were from the Shirley emigrants: one adult woman and three children. Evidence was later produced that the Shirley emigrants had satisfied health criteria before departure.

The criticism of the Shirley emigrants received a strong rebuttal from the Shirley’s shipping agent in South Australia, in a letter to the Colonial Lands and Emigration Commission in London. In his letter, which is rather full of bluster and hyperbole, he denounced any claims that the Shirley estate was responsible for off loading persons unfit for such a voyage.

 ‘Mr Shirley’s emigrants’ letters teem with praises of South Australia: . . . they gloat in anticipation of their saving money, remitted it to their relatives, and being joined by them . . . the people sent by Mr Shirley were neither emaciated, ill provided, or ill suited for the colony of South Australia, but that on the contrary they were rough sturdy labourers, well provided for an ordinary passage to Australia, and I am delighted to assure you, by their letters, a well employed happy, moneymaking lot’.[3]

The journey of the Shirley emigrants on the Trafalgar in December 1849 was closer to the norm: their journey took 105 days and there was only one death on board.

There were no further efforts made to send out emigrants in a group from the Shirley estate to South Australia. Individuals and families later emigrated, following relatives who had preceded them, but there was no further organised emigration.Thereafter emigration to the United States became the most convenient and popular destination for all concerned.

There is a touching appeal from a tenant, Owen Corrigan, written from the workhouse in Carrickmacross to Evelyn John Shirley in 1852. Members of his family had sailed on the Trafalgar in December 1849:

I beg to remind you that in the month of December 1849 you were pleased to emigrate four of my family to Adelaide in Australia for which act you have earned their most fervent blessing as they state it’s second to no other country in the world . . . Shortly after they landed there they sent me [a sum of money] on receipt of which I moved my family from the Workhouse and did not return until I could hold out no longer.

His appeal for assistance to emigrate to South Australia was granted.

An ancestral bond is formed

Among the other Irish emigrants on the Constance was a family from County Tipperary: Cornelius Guidera, aged 24, Margaret Guidera aged 18, and Johanna Guidera age 13. Their story will follow in my next blog post.

There are no records to tell us what happened to these young people, the Hollands and the Guideras, in the years immediately after their arrival. They arrived penniless and without friends or relatives who could have lent them a helping hand. They would have had no choice but to obtain employment as quickly as they could, for new emigrants were expected to fend for themselves.

Two years after they arrived in South Australia, on 20 February 1852, my great great grandparents George Holland and Margaret Guidera were married at a Catholic Church in Adelaide. Their daughter Margaret was my great grandmother. She was born in 1861 on the family farm near Stanley Flat, a few miles north of Clare. I shall follow their story another time.

Peter Holland & Johanna Guidera
Peter Holland and Johanna Guidera.  The date of Peter’s photograph is unknown. The photograph of Johanna was taken in Broken Hill when she was in her seventies.

These two families were joined together in another marriage, when Peter Holland married Johanna Guidera on 26 January 1854 at St Patrick’s Church, Adelaide. Peter and Johanna were to have fifteen children. Peter died aged 53 (not 56 as appeared in the death notice in The Northern Argus, the local Clare newspaper). Their youngest child was only two years old. Johanna was left to raise her large family on her own. She was much beloved by her children and grandchildren. She died aged 83 in Shepparton, Victoria.


Peter Holland grave
Peter Holland is buried on the hillside in the beautiful and historic St Aloysius cemetery at Sevenhill

Celtic Cross Catholic Cemetery Sevenhill
St Aloysius Cemetery, Sevenhill. Many of my relatives lie buried here.                                September 2016.  © Ramesh Thakur

[1] Robin Haines, Doctors at Sea, Emigrant Voyages to Colonial Australia, Palgrave MacMillan, 2005, p.27

[2] Trevor McLlaughlin, Stephanie James and Simon O’Reilley, Migration to Australia mid-nineteenth century: emigration from the Shirley estate at the time of the Famin, Clogher Record, Vol 20, No 2 (2010) p. 313

[3] Lorraine O’Reilly, ‘The Shirley estate 1814-1906 : the development and demise of a landed estate in County Monaghan’, [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 2014, pp 183-4

The Hollands from County Monaghan

George Holland (1829 – 1883) was my maternal great great grandfather. When I began my ancestral journey, I knew nothing about him.

In 2016 when on holiday in South Australia, we stopped on the main road a few kilometres north of Clare, where George Holland had a farm. My great grandmother Margaret Holland was born there in 1861, the 5th child to be born in South Australia. As I gazed at the land that was once their farm, I wondered what their lives were like in 1861.

The exact location of the Holland farm, Sections 48 and 49 on the road north of Clare. This is what it looked like in September 2016

George Holland is buried in the Jamestown cemetery. As I stood beside his grave, I realised how little I knew about his life. What county was he from in Ireland? Why did he emigrate to the far-away colony of South Australia?

Jamestown Cemetery-2
Holland family graves, Jamestown Cemetery

George Holland/Margaret Guidera

Some ancestors are very elusive. It can be very difficult to find any trace of them in the records. This was not the case with George Holland. The Holland family were tenants on the estate of Evelyn John Shirley (1788-1856). This estate was located in the southern part of County Monaghan in the Province of Ulster. It was the largest estate in the county, covering 26,000 acres with a tenant population exceeding 20,000 people in the early 1840s.

As a family history researcher I was delighted to find that a vast archive of documents relating to the affairs of the Shirley estate was deposited in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in 1982. The Shirley papers document generations of history across several hundred years. Of particular interest to me was the detailed information on the assisted emigration from the Shirley estate between the years 1843-1854, when 2,000 people were assisted to go to the United States, Canada, England and Australia. Even more importantly, there is material relating specifically to two ships, the Constance and the Trafalgar which carried Shirley emigrants to South Australia in August and December 1849. My ancestor George Holland and his brother Peter were passengers on the Constance.

The Shirley estate had been in the hands of the Shirley family since 1646. The original Irish owners of the land were dispossessed in 1576 when Queen Elizabeth I granted this estate and the neighbouring Bath estate to the First Earl of Essex, Walter Deveraux.[1] When the third Earl of Essex died in 1646 leaving no heirs, his estate passed to his two sisters, one of whom was married to Sir Henry Shirley. The Shirleys lived on their English estate, Ettington Park, near Stratford-upon-Avon, County Warwickshire and their estate in Ireland was managed by land agents for hundreds of years. In 1826, Evelyn John Shirley commenced building a mansion on the estate, Lough Fea House, which still stands today. From 1829 onwards, Evelyn John Shirley and his family spent a few months each summer in residence at Lough Fea, though the house was not finally completed until 1837.

Lough Fea House
Lough Fea House, near Carrickmacross, County Monaghan

Source: National Library of Ireland. No copyright restrictions

Background to the emigration of George and Peter Holland

The vast majority of tenants on the estate were living at subsistence level in the mid-19th century. Ninety-three percent of the tenants were Catholic, a proportion utterly different from other large estates in Ulster where most tenants were Protestants. The poor quality of housing meant that diseases such as typhus, dysentery and typhoid fever were common. The agent managing the estate between the years 1830 and 1843, Alexander Mitchell, was a tyrant who was feared and hated. Upon taking up his appointment, he surveyed the estate and increased rents by as much as 30 per cent. He infringed on the tenants’ ancient rights to cut peat on bog land to use for fuel for heating and cooking. He trampled on the rights of the Catholic tenants, particularly in regard to the education of their children, and being the agent of an absentee landlord there was no limit to his authority.

Mitchell died suddenly in 1843 of apoplexy in Monaghan town while attending the Spring Assizes as a member of the Grand Jury. It was recorded that when news of his death made its way to the inhabitants of the Shirley estate, bonfires were lit on every hilltop to celebrate the death of the ‘unscrupulous monster’.[2]

Mitchell’s successor, William Steuart Trench did a survey of the estate in 1843 when he assumed office. He reported that having visited a great number of homes across the estate he found that ‘even in Ireland, it has never fallen to my lot to witness destitution to the same degree and over such a large extent, as I have seen it on this property.[3] Trench was a strong advocate of assisted emigration as a way of reducing the numbers of poor tenants who were a drain on the estate.

Following the passage of the Poor Law in 1838, workhouses were constructed throughout the country to house the poor. The workhouse in Carrickmacross opened in 1840. The Poor Law tax bore most heavily on estates with large pauper populations. Agents and landowners calculated that it would cost less to send paupers to the New World than to maintain them in the workhouse for a year.

The records of those who were assisted refer constantly to the landholding status of the potential emigrant and that he/she will give up the land or has had his/her house knocked down. Among the petitions from the poor seeking assistance to emigrate there are many poignant examples of small farmers who had had their cottages demolished and were left penniless and homeless. Landowners wished to consolidate their estates by getting rid of tenants on the smallest plots of land. Evelyn John Shirley and his agent George Morant were strongly criticised for their eviction policies during the famine.

County Monaghan suffered greatly during the Famine. The population fell by 29 per cent between the years 1841 and 1851, from 200,407 to 141,758.[4] Yet even during the Famine, tenants were being ejected from their homes. Estate papers indicate that between 1846 and 1856, there were over 650 ejectment processes served on tenants. In the decade 1841-51 the population of the Shirley estate decreased by 44 per cent while the number of houses decreased by a substantial 42 per cent.[5] It is difficult to comprehend the suffering which lies behind these figures.

Some of those emigrants who were ‘key’ tenants from the point of view of farm consolidation on the estate, had to be coaxed and cajoled to go. This was especially true of the earlier forties, and of the Australian emigration in 1849.[6]

The policy of assisted emigration left an indefinable scar on local folklore. It was often depicted as highly exploitative of pauper tenants who were ‘exiled’, ‘rejected’, ‘dispossessed’ and ‘exterminated’ from their land.[7] This may not be entirely true. It was the memory constructed by those left behind and does not reflect the level of popular support for assisted emigration at the time. This support is evident in the numerous petitions to the Shirley estate office by people appealing for assistance to emigrate.

 George Holland was born on 23 June 1829 in the townland of Latinalbany, near Carrickmacross. His parents were Patrick and Catherine Holland.

The townland of Latinalbany, in the civil parish of Magheross. The size of the townland was 182 acres.  Source: https://www.townlands.ie/monaghan/farney/magheross/carrickmacross-rural/latinalbany/

There is a document, dated 2 July 1845 granting Patrick Holland a lease for 16 acres, 32 perches in the townland of Latinalbany for a yearly rent of £10-14-0. Patrick Holland died sometime before December 1846. A cottier named Patrick Byrne then lived on the property. He was a son- in- law of Patrick Holland.[8]Patrick Holland Shirley estate

In 1849 the names of Peter, George and Ellen Holland appeared on a list of emigrants for South Australia. Beside their names was written “10 acres”, presumably the amount of land that had been given up. Assisted migrants were drawn largely from among the sons and daughters of small farmers.[9] Irish immigrants to Australia were not drawn from the poorest of the poor.

Although Ellen’s name was on the list, she did not go. She was aged 17 at the time. Perhaps she decided to stay behind to care for her widowed mother. Catherine Holland died in 1852, three years after her sons left for South Australia. At some point Ellen emigrated to the United States, where she died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 25 July 1890 aged 58.

I wondered why South Australia was chosen as a destination for the Shirley emigrants, and not New Zealand or one of the other Australian colonies. The answer may lie with the family connection which Evelyn John Shirley had with the colony. In 1843 his daughter Louise Shirley had married Neill Malcolm, 13th Laird of Poltalloch estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. In 1839 Malcolm had purchased 4,000 acres of land in South Australia near Lake Alexandrina which he had named Poltalloch Station. Because of this large land purchase, Evelyn John Shirley was allowed to nominate emigrants from his estate at minimal cost. The emigrants to South Australia were subsidised by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in London. The cost to the Shirley estate was only £2 per head for the fare.

I do not know if Peter and George had to be persuaded and cajoled to go to South Australia or if they went willingly. The list of tenants selected to emigrate to South Australia began with 335 names, but in the end only 140 people left, 95 of whom were on the Constance. The Shirley estate agent George Morant said in writing to London on 28 July I know not what the government may think of our failure in providing the full complement of Emigrants but if the people are fools enough to refuse they can not be compelled…..There could be numerous reasons why the number of selected emigrants fell so dramatically but I suspect some of them may have been reluctant to go to a destination on the far side of the earth.

The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission  required all emigrants bound for South Australia to be properly outfitted for the journey. The clothing requirements each emigrant had to meet before boarding the ship proved to be more costly than the Shirley estate had anticipated.[10] There were also other sundry expenses such as sheets, towels, soap and luggage boxes. The correspondence reveals that outfitting the emigrants was very troublesome for the agents and the preparations were somewhat frantic. They regarded the regulations as red tape, but their successful implementation meant that there were no coffin ships to Australia, as there were to North America.

Finally, on the morning of 14 August 1849, the departing emigrants were gathered for inspection in Carrickmacross. I imagine that it was with heavy hearts that Peter and George said goodbye to their mother and sister. The emigrants then travelled to Dundalk where they took a train for the short journey to Drogheda. They stayed overnight at lodgings in Dublin and from there they sailed to Plymouth, where they boarded the Constance on 19 August 1849.

Little did the departing passengers know that a horrendous voyage lay ahead of them, a voyage which became infamous in the history of sailing to Australia in the 19th century and became the subject of several official enquiries. George and Peter were to meet their future wives on the voyage of the Constance, young sisters from County Tipperary. But that is the subject for another story.

Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s and the 1901 and 1911 Census returns reveal that many Hollands continued to live in the vicinity of Carrickmacross, including Latinalbany townland itself. Perhaps I may meet some distant Holland relatives when I visit Carrickmacross.

[1] http://www.irishidentity.com/stories/shirley.htm

[2] http://www.irishidentity.com/stories/shirley.htm

[3] Lorraine O’Reilly, ‘The Shirley estate 1814-1906 : the development and demise of a landed estate in County Monaghan’, [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 2014, p 131

[4] Ibid, p 191

[5] Patrick J Duffy ‘ “Disencumbering our crowded places”; theory and practice of estate emigration schemes in mid-nineteenth century Ireland’ in Patrick J Duffy (ed) To and From Ireland: Planned Migration Schemes c.1600-2000 (Dublin, 2004), p. 102

[6] Patrick J Duffy, Assisted Emigration from the Shirley Estate 1844-1854, Clogher Record, xiv (2), (1992), p. 17

[7] O’Reilly, op cit, p 192

[8] PRONI catalogue number D3531/S/58 (1844): Book recording names of tenants in occupation on the Shirley estate.

[9] Trevor McLaughlin, Stephanie James, Simon O’Reilly, Migration to Australia mid-nineteenth century: emigration from the Shirley Estate at the time of the Famine, Clogher Record, xx (2) (2010),  p.290

[10] Each of the males were allocated 5 shirts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 jacket, vest and trousers and 1 ‘suit reserved’. The females were allocated 5 shifts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and one gown and petticoat each.


The Hayes family from County Galway

I knew little about the Hayes family when I was growing up. Dad never talked about his family much. We did not know any Hayes relatives. We knew the bare bones of Dad’s life story: that he was born in Wirrabara in 1916, the first child of William Michael Hayes and Catherine Veronica Kennedy. His parents owned a picturesque farm on rolling hills a few miles north-east of Wirrabara. The farm was bequeathed to William Michael by his father, Patrick Hayes on the occasion of his marriage in 1915.

Hayes' farm ruins

The ruins of the Hayes farm near Wirrabara, built by my great grandfather Patrick Hayes (1840-1918). My father spent the first 14 years of his life here.

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur 2016

Opp. Hayes' farm ruins-2

The Hayes farm, September 2016

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur

This blog post is not about my father or grandfather,  but about the Irish origins of my great grandfather Patrick Hayes and his parents before him.  Patrick arrived in South Australia as a nine year old boy on the ship Eliza on 23 August 1849. As a child born in 1840 he probably witnessed many harrowing sights during the Famine.  In his later life he signed legal documents with his “X” mark, so we assume he was illiterate. There was probably little opportunity to get much education after he arrived in South Australia. As a very young man he worked as a ‘bullocky’ carting copper from the mine at Burra to Port Wakefield. He married my great grandmother Catherine O’Toole in Mintaro in 1865 and they raised twelve children. My grandfather, William Michael, was the youngest. Patrick became a land-owner and lease-holder in the region around Wirrabara and Melrose. His is a remarkable story of hard work and achievement against the odds.

With Patrick on the Eliza were his parents Thomas Hayes and Honora Hennessy, his sister Mary aged ten and infant brother Thomas. The passenger list states that they were from County Galway, and Thomas’ occupation was given as a “husbandman”. That is all I knew about their Irish origins.

I began my search with the history of the surnames Hayes and Hennessy. In mid-19th century Ireland these names were not common in County Galway. They were mostly clustered in County Cork, followed by counties Tipperary and Limerick.

Hayes distribution

The distribution of the Hayes surname at the time of Griffith’s Valuation (1847-64)

Source: https://www.johngrenham.com/findasurname.php?surname=hayes

When searching historic land records, I had a great stroke of luck: there was only one Hennessy name in County Galway, that of Pat Hennessy, who lived in the townland of Derrygoolin, Civil Parish of Ballynakill/Catholic parish of Woodford in 1834. He was a tenant of the Marquis of Clanricarde and occupied 160 acres of land.

I next discovered that Michael, William and John Hayes were also tenants of the Marquis of Clanricarde in the same townland, each with 80 acres. Derrygoolin is located about 3  miles south west of the village of Woodford. County Clare forms the southern boundary of the townland and Lough Derg is to the east. Derrygoolin is in the foothills of the Slieve Aughty mountains which form the boundary between County Galway and County Clare. The hills of the Slieve Aughty range contain vast tracks of some of the most desolate landscapes in Ireland. The highest point in the townlanland is 669 metres. The Slieve Aughty Bog, now a protected conservation area, is not far away from Derrygoolin.

DerrygoolinThe townland of Derrygoolin, 3 ¼ miles SW of Woodford


I was hopeful that I was on the right track in my ancestral search. I next examined  the Catholic parish records for further evidence that this was in fact their place of origin. I did not find a marriage record for Thomas and Honora but I did find a baptism record for their son John who was baptised on 6 February 1842 in the Catholic parish of Woodford. This infant did not survive the Famine years but his date of death is unknown.

The Hayes and Hennessy families were tenants of the Marquis of Clanricarde, Ulick John de Burgh (1802-1874). The history of this family dates back to the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late 12th/early 13th century. The de Burgh family, or Burkes as they later became known, succeeded in subjugating the local Gaelic population and at times they dominated the whole province of Connacht. Much has been written about this family and their historic role over the centuries. In Woodford at the time my ancestors lived there they were one of the leading landowning families in County Galway, with 52,000 acres. A book has been written about the Earl of Clanricarde, A Galway Landlord during the Great Famine. He staunchly defended the interests of the landlord class during the Famine, but did not entirely ignore the misery of his tenants.

The quality of the land my ancestors occupied was very poor. A total of only seventeen families lived there. In the mid 19th century Derrygoolin townland was described as

A large townland very partially cultivated being composed of bog and mountain. There are only a few cabins of a very inferior description in the townland. There is nothing remarkable in the townland.

In this harsh landscape it must have been difficult for these families to eke out a subsistence livelihood, even in the good years. What it was like during the Famine is hard to imagine. There is a Workhouse in nearby Portumna which I hope to visit when I am in Ireland, but as far as I know none of my ancestors had to enter the Workhouse.

Galway suffered severely during the Great Famine. Over 73,000 people died in the County between 1845 and 1850 and approximately 11% of the population emigrated in the succeeding five years. Between 1841 and 1871, the population of the Clanricarde estates in Galway fell from nearly 22,000 to under 10,000. In the aftermath of the Famine, the land agents of the Earl of Clanricarde promoted the assisted emigration of his tenants. There are no records for the individual tenants who left. Nor is it known what assistance the land agents gave the tenants to leave: whether the estate paid part of the fares or assisted the tenants to successfully apply for a government assisted passage. There are no records to indicate if the estate assisted the departing tenants with the cost of equipping themselves with the required outfit of clothing, other sundry expenses, or the cost of reaching the port of embarkation.

Postscript: From Derrygoolin to Caltowie

The lives of Thomas and Honora after their arrival in South Australia are another story. Briefly, four more children were born. We know from the children’s baptism records that the family were living in Kapunda. It seems highly likely that Thomas worked as a labourer in the copper mine in the years immediately after their arrival. He must have worked hard, for on 3 December 1858 he bought his first land in the colony, 168 acres in the Hundred of Belvidere, County of Light. This land is just on the outskirts of Kapunda. In 1873 he purchased 312 acres of land near Caltowie in the mid-north. Thomas died in Caltowie in 1887. Honora lived to the age of 85, taken care of in her old age by her daughters Catherine and Bridget who were born in South Australia. She died in 1899.

While they no doubt endured much hardship in their lives, I would like to think Thomas and Honora felt a sense of relief and security when they bought their own land in South Australia. No longer would they or their children be at the mercy of an absentee landlord, at risk of eviction or starvation. I have visited their final resting place in the Caltowie cemetery. I now look forward to seeing where their journey began, Derrygoolin townland in County Galway.

Caltowie Cemetery-2

Caltowie Cemetery,  where Thomas and Honora and some of their children are buried.

© Photograph by Ramesh Thakur